Parents to be polled about ill kids The mystery at Mount Airy Elementary

June 13, 1993|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

Parent volunteers will begin polling other parents of Moun Airy Elementary School first- and second-graders tomorrow in an effort to help state and county officials determine what in the building might be making some students sick.

The only test results to provide a clue so far came just over a week ago, when school officials learned that Room 144, a former first-grade classroom, contained a high level of bacteria. The bacteria level is six times the normal rate.

The school sent a survey in May to parents, but the low rate of return and other problems prevented officials from drawing any conclusions from it.

State environmental officials are involved with county health and school officials in investigating causes of student illnesses at the so-called "sick school."

Dr. Shirin de Silva of the Maryland Department of the Environment has drafted a new survey for the parent volunteers to use in telephoning other parents in the 13 first- and second-grade classrooms.

Eight parents met Friday with Vernon Smith, the county's director of school support services, to prepare for the polling.

Dr. de Silva's instructions include a script for the volunteers to introduce themselves by name and indicate that they also have children in that grade.

The school has about 280 children in first and second grades.

Meanwhile, the parent who spurred the study after her daughters suffered the most severe symptoms has decided to teach them at home for the rest of this year. The girls will go to a private school next year.

The mother, Christine Bingaman of Timber Ridge Road, told school officials in November that she believed something in the building was making her daughter Lora, 6, suffer extreme fatigue, difficulty in concentrating, and sinus, ear and throat problems. One day, Lora also had heart palpitations, Mrs. Bingaman said.

The girl's symptoms always were worse during and after school, but would improve by Monday mornings, when she was always happy about returning to school, Mrs. Bingaman said.

Doctors ruled out allergies as a cause.

School officials conducted a one-day air quality test in December. It revealed no problems.

In April, more parents began to learn of symptoms in their children that could be related to the building, and school officials began more aggressive testing.

"I wish that Lora's symptoms had been taken seriously at the beginning," Mrs. Bingaman said.

Mrs. Bingaman's daughter's class moved to a portable building. After that, the girl's symptoms disappeared, her mother said.

But Lora's twin sister, Lisa, began to have some of the same symptoms in her first-grade class, in the same part of the building as Lora's original classroom.

Mrs. Bingaman said she and her husband, Bob, decided to take their daughters out of the school.

Although the girls would have attended Winfield Elementary School next year because district lines have been redrawn, they will go to a private school instead, Mrs. Bingaman said.

"In some respects, it [the illness problem] still hasn't been taken seriously . . . by individuals associated with the school," she said. "That hurts."

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